The Yiddish Policemen’s Union – Michael Chabon (2007)
If one should only praise Chabon’s literary skills and his almost Wodehouse-esque and surprisingly apt nuggets of wit and metaphor it would be praise enough, but there is far more.
It appears that, in the early stages of World War II, it was mooted that Jewish refugees be settled on Sitka, an island off the coast of Alaska, As it turned out, nothing came of that, but Chabon has taken this germ of an idea and created a complex Jewish society, decades on, at a time when the lease on the land (as with Britain and Hong Kong) is about to expire and the Jews have to wander on.
Meyer Landsman is a detective with issues. His formidable ex-wife is now his boss, the upper echelons of the police force have ordered Landsman and his colleagues to close all their cases pending the US takeover, and a man has been shot dead while playing chess in his room in the hotel Landsman also lives in.
Stubborn, hardbitten, and going against the grain at every turn, Landsman is determined to solve this last case before ‘Reversion’ leaves him without a home or job.
Refreshingly, this novel is quite unlike anything I’ve read before, although there are echoes, faint homages to film noir, Philip K Dick, Raymond Chandler and no doubt others, but interestingly, this is still a thoroughly enjoyable and original novel.
There are lines such as ‘his haircut occupied the thin space between astronaut and paedophile scoutmaster.’ The beauty of Chabon’s one-liners is in their accuracy, their originality and the fact that his similes and metaphors provoke visual comparisons which are both accurate and appropriate. It verges on high quality poetry.
Landsman and his half-Native American partner, Berko, follow leads into various levels and factions of Jewish Society, slowly uncovering a plot with international ramifications.
Chabon doesn’t shirk on characters either. The novel is jammed with eccentrics, saints and sinners, from the grossly corpulent Verbover Rabbe Spilman, to the waitresses, bar-owners, and other perfectly drawn characters that populate the pages.